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When my Dad was a learner - then and now

Eleanor Richards profile

Eleanor Richards

November 20, 2017

Young driver stories 7 min read

Something that I’ve been thinking about recently is how much driving must have changed over the years. I saw a really old-fashioned car trundle down the road the other day – almost Ford Model T-esque – and it got me thinking about what it must have been like to learn to drive in one of them. Sadly I couldn’t find anyone from back then to do a comparison with, but I have managed to come up with the next best thing – my dad, who must’ve learnt to drive around 40 years ago now.

“What car did you learn to drive in dad?”

My dad’s Ford Escort… I didn’t really like it though so I switched over to mum’s Vauxhall Viva. That car had a bit more character to it, you really had to slam the driver-side door when you closed it or there was a high risk of it just popping open if you went over 40mph. Something my dad did fail to tell me on my earlier lessons with him.

When my Dad was a learner - then and now

Source: Car Magazine

“So you learnt to drive with your parents?”

Sort of. I learnt a bit like you really, had my professional lessons with an instructor called Pete Ladlow – he taught your mum as well actually – the first lesson cost 17 shillings and sixpence, and we set off from right outside this house! So the same place you’ll have started your first lesson too.

Probably the only similarity….

I do have to admit I’m a little surprised dad started his first driving lesson from the same spot I started mine, and it’s even weirder that this was before he and mum bought the house that lays claim to the spot. I’ve enjoyed many a giggle myself watching learner drivers try to set off on their own outside my bedroom window. Our house is just after a set of traffic lights you see, and instructors seem to think it’s the perfect spot for a young seventeen-year-old to get behind the wheel for the first time – much to my amusement.

“Did you pass your test first time?”

Yes, of course

“Any minors?”


It would appear minor infractions are a new thing to the driving world. As my dad claims he has no idea what a ‘minor’ is when passing your test – I call him on this knowing full well he asked both me and my older brother how many we got when we passed (just one for me #professional). But that does make me wonder if it was a lot easier to pass your driving test back then, taking that it functioned on a strict pass/fail basis.

“Reversing around a corner almost got me though…”

My dad continues…

If there was any part of my test where I thought I was going to fail it was reversing around a corner. I remember I went out with my mum a couple of days before my test and tried reversing around the same corner about fifty times, only managing it once. Thankfully the examiner never asked me to do that, he opted for an emergency stop instead – which I knew was coming because I saw him bracing himself, so that worked out perfectly.

There’s another thing that my dad and I had in common, neither of us wanted to have to reverse around a corner. To park in my parents’ driveway back home (where I was living when I learnt to drive) you had to reverse around a corner. This was something I mastered quite quickly but realised in a panic the morning of my test that I could only reverse around a corner from the left-hand side. Thankfully it didn’t come up on my test either, but to this day I only ever reverse into parking spaces or my parents’ drive from the left…

(Side note: Learners who will take their driving test after December 4th will no longer be asked to reverse around a corner – to the relief of many, we’re sure!)


“You ever had any big accidents?”

I’ve written off two cars – my dad replies with a slight smirk on his face – but I’ve never been caused any serious damage. The one that always sticks with you I think is the first accident you get into. For me, it was the winter after I passed my test. I skidded on ice and whacked into a stationary car. Banged my knee pretty hard on the door but then I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt: my own fault.

I smile. There’s no chance you could get away with that now; every car has that annoying beep that starts going if you forget to put a seatbelt on, and since 1983 it’s been a legal requirement to wear one. Considering it I don’t think I’ve really had that first big accident yet; I’ve scraped the side of the car against the narrower bit of our driveway and banged a wing-mirror once or twice but overall I feel I’ve been quite lucky. But then, I haven’t had a car to drive during my four years at university and I feel like that is where an accident would’ve taken place.

“Do you think you’re a good driver then?”

Of course

My dad smirks again and I roll my eyes, I wasn’t really going to get any other answer than that. As our conversation ends and I reflect on what my dad’s said, I realise that overall there aren’t that many differences between his story and my own.

Technology has made some of the smaller things – like a seatbelt alarm or car doors popping open – less of a problem, but in the grand scheme of things learning to drive has remained fairly similar. Everyone has lessons, everyone gets worried about a certain manoeuvre or part of their test, and in the end, everyone (or 99.99% of people) pass eventually. Still, I’m glad I learnt to drive when I did – technology does give the youth of today that slight edge, another thing I will constantly remind my dad about when he questions who the better driver is…

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Eleanor Richards profile

By Eleanor Richards

'I've been driving since I was 17, luckily passing my test first time and I really enjoy the freedom driving gives me. I don't currently have my own car but I am looking to buy one within the next year!'  See more posts by Eleanor

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